#LentLite: Double Meaning of the Cross

Today’s guest contributor is Josiah Daniels (Twitter: @josiah_Rdaniels).

Good Friday is the most perplexing and grotesquely comforting day of the year as far as I’m concerned. This is the day we remember — nay, celebrate — God sacrificing God’s very self in the person of Jesus Christ. It is on this day that we celebrate God’s solidarity with the poor and oppressed, as God stands against every empire in all its forms. Of course in Jesus’ time, God demonstrated opposition to the Roman Empire and solidarity with the occupied Jewish people. In our world today, we may imagine God opposing the might-makes-right mentality of the United States. Where cute acronyms, like MOAB, allude to bombs and America’s obsession with casting itself as a New Israel while casting those who oppose “our freedoms” as Canaanites. God stands in solidarity with Muslims, Jewish people, Immigrants, LGBTQ persons and others who have been “othered” by this new empire we find ourselves in. Even in this season that feels like a perpetual dirge, there is a glimmer of hope.

Indeed, the irony is that this hope exists in the lament.

I reflected on this for a theology class where I created a crucifix that artistically points to the themes of death and life.

Since Christ’s execution, the cross has always had a double meaning. On the one hand the cross represents the barbarity of the Roman Empire and its oppressive occupation of an oppressed people, the Jews. On the other hand, Christ’s sacrifice completely disarms powers, empires and the narratives of death. It is a deep mystery, but somehow the cross points to oppression and liberation all at the same time (Mt. 10:34–39; Lk 14:25–33).

The inspiration for this project was my own neighborhood, North Lawndale. Lawndale and neighborhoods like Lawndale, were created by the US government to perpetuate white supremacy. The two pieces of wood that create the crux of the piece are from an empty lot in Lawndale. While the pieces are worn and rugged it is important to note the unusual strength of the wood, which represents the inspiring strength of the people in the neighborhood. The hangman’s noose on the arm of the cross symbolizes the nexus between “The Cross and the Lynching Tree” (James Cone).

Whether it’s the literal noose one associates with lynching black people or the subtler “noose” of exclusionary policies in the U.S., black death has been very beneficial for the American Empire. Despite this reality, black life has subversively continued to assert that it does indeed matter. Finally the “loop” on the top of the cross is made of a metal bar. Many people in Lawndale have either been behind bars or have a family member who is currently behind bars. Mass incarceration is the New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander). And yet the “loop” also mimics the Ankh Cross seen in many Egyptian Coptic churches where it signifies life.

The cross is a symbol full of double meanings and a dark hope. It should be labeled a “dark hope” not only because of what Christ was forced to endure but because when we turn our eyes to the cross, its shadow looms heavy but beyond the shadow is God’s alignment with the maligned.